Channukah and the Quiet

I used to laugh when my mom would ask to stay by the Menorah candles. She would want to sit and stare until the wick drowned. I would rush to the family computer room and put on a Chanukah song. Rush to unwrap gifts. To savor my father’s newest pancake collaboration. Sweet potato, onion, and squash. Peppery. Salty. Canola. Applesauce. Rushing. Rushing to the newest distraction, prize, experiment. Like the Maccabees right?

I was in the elevator of my college dorm with a fellow Jewish student. I told him that in a group meeting for a final project I piped in, “I had to light my candelabra now.” A group member laughed and said, “your menorah?!” “I hadn’t realized Americans knew what Channukah was,” I remarked to my elevator companion jokingly. “It’s weird because politically it’s a holiday about Jewish sovereignty,” I added. We made a joke about American fascination with war and parted ways. Because isn’t that the crux of the holiday? The miracle? Rushing into battle. Rushing to find the oil. War. Strife. 

Yet, I sit here. On my iPad typing laboriously while my phone is in airplane mode in the other room. I am awash with calm. The Chanukah lights and my solitude are like the heavy coat that protected me from New York’s flurries today. If this holiday is about fighting and war and expediency, why does it feel like time slows down?

On the first night of Chanukah, my sister and I refreshed what my brother coins “our Maserati Yeshiva education,” and tried to recall what the Greeks had banned. “Torah learning,” my mom exasperatedly filled in. “REMEMBER, the dreidels.” As I sit here, typing with more effort than I should, I think about the dreidel. Spinning. Out of control. Rushing off its axis. Physics comes to mind. (I try to forget that. ) But, isn’t the essence of the dreidel story slowing down. The essence of Yehudis. The essence of heroism. Of sovereignty. Of Jewish tradition. Pausing and thinking. How to fight back? How to win. How to stay true to our identity. 

Channukah has more protagonists than the Maccabees. The protagonists are also the little children that slowed down, learned Torah, and spun dreidels to appreciate the calm the Jewish tradition brings. They risked their life to pour over ancient texts. To hear. To listen. To be quiet. 

This isn’t an article, but more of a reflection. An apology to my mother for never letting her sit by the menorah. For rushing. For never slowing down. A call to sit and to ponder. To remember that Channukah is more than the miracle of Jewish sovereignty, but the beauty of Jewish perseverance. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe says, “ a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” The Maccabees didn’t rush to find the oil, they slowed down to look for what could beautify and sanctify the Jewish tradition. They slowed down to bring G-d into their lives. Into our lives. To do so, we need to stop. To sit. To let the candlelight awash over us.

About the Author
I grew up as a Bais Yaakov girl in the Five Towns before I transitioned into a modern-orthodox teenager at Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls. Now, at Columbia University, I write as a Jew who wishes to express problems the collective Jewish world should address.
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